Skip to main content

Bye Bye Bad Perms: Olaplex Targets the Scorned Curl Service

Curl services could eventually account for 10 percent of the professional hair-care brand's business.

Olaplex is bouncing from color to curls.

The Santa Barbara-based professional hair-care brand that’s won over colorists by pushing by the boundaries of bleaching hair wants to rekindle oft-criticized perms. In its latest effort to intercept hair damage, it’s spearheading a professional perm service to banish the chemical curl treatment’s bad reputation that could eventually account for 10 percent of its business, according to Olaplex owner Dean Christal.

“People want beachy waves. You can get that beautifully with a perm, but normally you can’t perform a perm on hair that’s been lightened. You can do it with Olaplex, and it really offers a gigantic opportunity to do a service that hasn’t been done,” said Christal, also founder of the nano-technology hair-care range Liqwd. “Our product is not specifically for a perm. It is for hair that’s going through any chemically damaging process, and a perm is a seriously damaging service to go through. If you are going to choose to do a perm, you are going to get the best results with the least possible damage if you neutralize it with Olaplex.”

Olaplex was planning to introduce its perm service later, but was propelled to unveil it when buzz built around a perm hairstylist Riawna Capri, coowner of West Hollywood salon Nine Zero One, performed last month on the hair of dancer, singer and actress Julianne Hough using Olaplex. “Perming on blonde hair is the number-one rule in beauty school not to do. So, we basically broke the rules thanks to Olaplex,” said Capri, adding that, “Since you cannot perm on color-treated hair, Olaplex is the only way to achieve a permanent wake-up and go curl texture without it frying off.”

You May Also Like

Capri declared perms are essentially a new service because many hairstylists abandoned them long ago, fearing they’d create hairdos that made clients look “like a poodle for your fifth-grade school photo.” That means perms offer the potential to lift salons’ businesses, but Christal underscored a major challenge in promoting Olaplex for chemical curl treatments is avoiding being associated with bad perms. “We have been very cautious to start blasting out there that Olaplex is great with perms because we want to make sure stylists don’t go out, buy perm kits and perm rods, and start doing perms without any education because a perm is a very aggressive service,” he said. “I want people to know that, if you are going to do a perm, there is a much healthier, safer and better way to do it.”

Developed with materials and chemistry researchers Eric Pressly and Craig Hawker, both of who had no prior hair industry experience, Olaplex’s formula links broken bonds in the hair before and after chemical services. Olaplex has three products — No. 1, which is described as a bond multiplier; No. 2, a bond perfector, and No. 3, a hair perfector and Olaplex’s bestseller that can be applied at home. To date, the top revenue generating service for Olaplex at salons is a standalone service to fix damaged hair. “The stylists that embrace it can have a consistent revenue stream,” Christal said.

Launched in 2014, Olaplex was thrust onto the salon scene by social-media savvy colorists such as Guy Tang and Tracey Cunningham showcasing their work incorporating its products. In its first 10 days, Olaplex signed up 10,000 salons. It is in more than 300,000 salons globally, a distribution  Christal noted far exceeds the majority of sizable professional hair-care brands found in an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 salons. “It literally grows by about 1,000 salons a day worldwide,” he said of Olaplex’s expanding salon network.

Olaplex’s growth has spurred copycats. Christal has counted 65 of them. He said the copycats rely on “silicone and film-forming polymers” and expounded, “It’s hard for me to understand that 65 different brands out there would put the exact same non-chemistry items in bottles and make false claims as to its performance, and sell it to people. I hate to say that hairstylists in most cases will buy anything once, and that’s enough for a brand that wants to fill 5,000 to 10,000 bottles and make money, but none of the knockoffs have done anything [to Olaplex].”

The copycats haven’t stopped an outpouring of inquiries about possible Olaplex licensing deals and buyouts. Future solicitors beware, Christal is adamant he’s not letting go of the brand. “I tell everyone the same thing. I have four kids and three are teenagers, and I hope it is a business that they want to work in someday,” he said. “I have no interest in doing nothing.”